Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
“Chroma”, “D-Man in the Waters”, “Revelations”
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
February 4, 2014
by George Jackson
copyright 2014 by George Jackson
Yes, there is dancing that wants to appear random, accidental. There is choreography that would like to seem just a collection of unpredictable moves. Wayne McGregor’s belongs to that sort. Actions in “Chroma” look disconnected from each other and frequently are choppy. Impulses keep coming almost constantly, at diverse but not dramatically different speeds. The ten strong, stretched bodies that perform are often isolated or separated into subgroups. As persons, the dancers project deadpan attitudes. Interactions don’t change anyone. Even with the suppositions we impose, McGregor’s universe remains provocatively atomized.
What a contrast with Bill T. Jones’ “D-Man in the Waters (Part 1)”! Jones’s cast has one less dancer but seems bigger because individuals are grouped. They line up, and seem linked even when physically apart. Order, though, avoids routine: the movement builds, grows organically, and is capable of encompassing surprise. Whether motion harmonizes with the vibrant sounds of strings or runs counterpoint to them, one is always aware of the music. Jones challenges viewers (especially the capital’s audience) by evoking a military world. “D-Man” is dancing done on a battlefield. It was daring of Robert Battle, the Ailey’s artistic director, to put an alienated McGregor work and a political opus by Jones on the opening night of the company’s week in Washington. First nights here have traditionally been party occasions for the Ailey. Last night, too, was a dressy affair with much socializing in the aisles and, of course, Alvin Ailey’s celebratory “Revelations” as concluding piece in the theater, prior to more partying.
The problem with randomized choreography, not just McGregor’s but also that of his predecessor, Merce Cunningham, is that the mind abhors chaos. We imposes pattern, shape, order on dancing that seems to be arbitrary, haphazard, chance. For “Chroma”, John Pawson’s set of flat and spacious oblongs in intense un-colors (grey, white, black) gives McGregor’s movement more form than do the muted colors of Moritz Junge’s costumes. The musical score by Jack White and Joby Talbot, although harsh, remains background sound. Despite the set and our mental suppositions, McGregor’s motion doesn’t end up dancing as intriguingly as Merce Cunningham’s. Is the latter’s knack due to his initial choices of movement material and not to his arrangement procedure?
Part 1 of Jones’s “D-Man” makes me curious about the part or portions that follow. Is the entirety a heroic epic, an elegy or an antiwar tract? Last night we were shown both sadness and joy. Remarkable is the strong flow, the feeling of movement streaming across the stage, motion that the dancers don’t seem to generate but are caught up in. The music sounds surprisingly contemporary but is 19th Century - the first section, the Allegro Moderato, of Felix Mendelssohn’s string octet in E-flat major, Opus 20.
Eye catching among the excellent dancers was tall Alicia Graf – now Alicia Graf Mack. She appeared in all three pieces on the program and gave her roles a balletic delicacy that suited especially “Chroma”, wasn’t amiss in “D-Man” but seemed too articulate for the suppleness of “Revelations”. When will the gospel singing for “Revelations” be live again?
Photos, courtesy of the JF Kennedy Center and the Alvin Ailey Dance Company.